The Best Way a Son Learns to Be a Man

Illustration of a young boy pulling a frog from a swampy area
John Jay

Most boys enter healthy manhood with the help of a "point man" — someone who leads the way and offers support through the trials of life. And the most effective point man our sons can have goes by the name "Dad."

As we work to raise the next generation of men, we must remember that no boy has ever been effectively scolded or shamed into healthy manhood. Rather, he must be welcomed into it through the caring guidance and affirmation of his father.

Before we can invite our boys into healthy manhood, however, we must understand what authentic masculinity is. We must be careful not to confuse manliness with macho-toughness. Men can be masculine without wrestling alligators or smashing through the defensive line to score a touchdown. They can even be masculine while ballet dancing or cooking exquisite recipes. Just ask Russian-American dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. Who has any doubts about their masculinity?

These men and millions of others exhibit a variety of unmistakably masculine qualities. Of course, not all men will tend toward all male qualities, nor will they exhibit the qualities in the same ways. But this doesn't make them any less manly.

So what is healthy manhood? It would take a book to explain all the attributes, such as honor, innovation, discipline and respect — and indeed, I discuss many of these in my book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons. But here are three key principles that our boys should be learning as they journey to manhood:

Men are explorers

We must teach our boys how to explore, to see what's over the next hill, beyond the next curve in the road. Indulge and encourage your son's natural curiosity. Better yet, become his cohort in discovery. Depending on your son's natural bent, his exploration might mean wading through a frog pond, riding his bike through the neighborhood or peering through a microscope. Learn what excites your son, and join him in the adventure. It is here he will find much of his satisfaction and confidence as a boy.

Men are risk takers

Whether your son wants to try out for football or audition for the school play, encourage him to risk failure and disappointment in order to experience success. Nudge him toward smart risks, alert him to foolish ones, and teach him the difference between the two. 

Men are initiators

Boys need to learn how to initiate the right action at the right time. They need to know when things should be started, such as standing up to a bully, and when they shouldn't, such as throwing a ball inside the house. Your job is to curb your son's compulsiveness without killing his initiative. Praise his good choices; correct his bad ones. Give him the grace to make mistakes and to learn from them.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

"What Boys Need to Learn to Become Good Men" by Rick Johnson

"Seeing the Man in Your Son" by Emerson Eggerichs

Secure Daughters, Confident Sons by Glenn T. Stanton

Focus on the Family magazine

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family. This article first appeared in the March/April, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "Manhood in the Making." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2011 by Focus on the Family

Next in this Series: What Boys Need to Learn to Become Good Men

You Might Also Like:

  • Missions to Manhood

    Jonathan Catherman

    Fathers can be purposeful in raising their sons to be good men.

  • Secure Daughters, Confident Sons

    Glenn Stanton

    Discover why gender plays such a vital role in raising children into healthy adults. Packed with research-based insights and practical tools, Stanton's enlightening guide clears up cultural confusion surrounding gender identity, exposes the dangers of stereotypes, and reveals how parents can help shape their children's understanding of what it means to be a man or woman. 

  • Seeing the Man in Your Son

    Emerson Eggerichs

    What growing boys need from their moms can be summed up in one word: respect.